On-reserve COVID-19 case rates approaching 'watershed moment,' says Indigenous Services top doctor

The chief medical officer Indigenous Services says the next two weeks will be critical to flattening the curve of COVID-19 cases in First Nations which has seen a steady, near daily rise. 

'We don't want to see an exponential increase,' says Dr. Tom Wong

Dr. Tom Wong, Chief Medical Officer of Public Health at Indigenous Services Canada, left, and Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller leave a news conference on COVID-19 in Ottawa in March. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The chief medical officer for Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) says the next two weeks will be critical to flattening the curve of COVID-19 cases in First Nations, which has seen a steady, near daily rise. 

Dr. Tom Wong said outbreaks related to work sites have been behind recent increases in COVID-19 cases on-reserve.

"Over the past two weeks we've been looking at some of the public health threats to First Nation communities as reflected by the recently diagnosed cases," said Wong. 

Wong said the next two weeks will prove pivotal.

"For us it's very important to see all the public health measures that people are following and [be] able to shut the door on this type of transmission from those places with outbreaks… We don't want to see an exponential increase." 

As of April 29, there had been two COVID-19 related deaths and 129 on-reserve cases across Canada — 33 in British Columbia, 20 in Alberta, 14 in Saskatchewan, 32 in Ontario and 30 in Quebec, according to the federal department's latest tally.

One week prior, there were a total of 81 COVID-19 cases on-reserve, according to ISC data, with just one case reported in Alberta.

The majority of the new cases in Alberta appear to stem from an outbreak among workers at the Cargill meat-packing plant near High River, which has been linked to cases in Stoney Nakoda Nation communities west of Calgary. Stoney Nakoda Nation was reporting 15 cases of COVID-19 as of Monday.

The Cargill plant is the location of Canada's largest outbreak tied to a single site, with 1,167 cases, representing nearly 25 per cent of Alberta's total COVID-19 cases.

On April 24, Gull Bay, a First Nation about 190 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, announced it had six COVID-19 cases and the band chief said it was possible some could be linked to an outbreak reported earlier in April at the Lac Des Iles mining site as several members of the community worked there. 

Wong said lockdown measures in First Nations have been so far successful in keeping the virus at bay. 

"There is a way that community efforts can really contribute to bending the curve," said Wong. 

"Over the next two weeks, that is the watershed moment that we want the curve to be coming down."

Nunavut announced its first COVID-19 case Thursday in Pond Inlet. The Inuit territory of Nunavik in northern Quebec has recorded 16 cases.

with a file from Jessica Deer